Jason Wild of Salesforce and Bey Soo Khiang of RGE and the APRIL Group speaking at the 2019 Fortune Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore.
Stefen Chow for Fortune
By Jamie O'Brien
March 16, 2019

As industries around the world embrace digital technology, what is the impact on people and the world around us? And how do businesses keep focus on their customers and not become distracted by the technology? A roundtable discussion at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore last Thursday offered those in attendance some advice.

According to Jason Wild, senior vice president at business software maker Salesforce, it isn’t an easy journey—but the prize is worth it. When his company works with clients to digitally transform their businesses, requirements are a key factor. The Salesforce team needs to have deep access to decision makers in the organization, Wild said, and they need full commitment. “It’s not digital transformation; it’s customer centricity,” he clarified. Working this way allows the co-creation of a vision informed by the aspirations of the organization.

Businesses that seek digital transformation often face multiple challenges. They are struggling to keep up with shifting demands. They have helpful data, but sometimes lack context to take action. Two-thirds of the significant decisions CEOs make are done so without sufficient information, Wild said.

Bey Soo Khiang, vice chairman at RGE, a Singaporean company that manages firms that manufacture paper, energy, and other raw materials, put digital transformation into context by citing the palm oil industry. Building trust in the community is hugely important, he explained, because the palm oil industry faces heavy scrutiny. (It has been criticized for reducing rainforest, generating substantial carbon emissions, and displacing native jungle species.) So RGE employs fire chiefs from local Indonesian villages to educate farmers and children about the problems associated with burning land to clear crops, so that the next generation see it as a destructive practice. The company awards $10,000, earmarked for community development projects, to villages that go fire-free for a year. It tracks fires as well as emissions from plantations with drones and sensors and compares levels to virgin rainforest.

Ariel Muller, APAC managing director at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability, recalled working with a team to solve a business problem at a plantation. She was working with two young men facing a “systemic challenge” that they couldn’t solve on their own. “One man said, ‘It’s as if we are in a canoe and we keep focusing on making a better paddle, but we don’t even know if we’re going in the right direction,'” she said. “So I spent a lot of time focusing on that.”

Her lesson for the room: You can digitize and Internet-connect all the technology you have, but it’s no replacement for a clearly defined strategy.

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference, click here.

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